(This was first written for my History of Youth Literature class, but I posted them at almost the same time. ^^;)
Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (2004) is a book that first caught my eye because of the Japanese in the title. It’s an onomatopoetic word that means glittering, or sparkling, and can be used to refer to all sorts of different things (stars, eyes, a clean kitchen counter…). In the book, it’s how the narrator’s older sister, Lynn, sees the world. Katie, the main character and narrator, worships her sister and her ability to transform ordinary objects into kira-kira by the way she thinks about them.
The book is about how the main character and her family deals with her sister’s lymphoma and subsequent death. It goes through Katie’s feelings of denial, helplessness, despair, anger, and guilt, but most of all, it shows the love she felt for her sister and her family. It is definitely not the kind of book I would pick up on my own, and probably not one I would read again, but it was a good story that packed an emotional punch at the end.
I put off reading this book for a long time because I had heard how sad it was (they were right). I probably would not have even read the book if I hadn’t been looking for a “K” book for my blog, and the book happened to be available at my local library. I knew that it was a Newbery winner (that was where it caught my eye in the first place), and it also won that APALA Youth Literature Award for 2005-2006.
Aside from being a powerful story, the book also deals with racism in the Deep South in the 1950s. In the book, when Katie and her family move to Georgia, there are only 31 other Japanese people in their town. People are not really sure how to treat them, and white people lump them with the “colored” people. Kids at school don’t hang out with them because they’re Japanese, and their uncle can’t become a land surveyor because of his race.
Growing up in L.A., I never really felt like I was different because of my race, but while I was in college, I actually visited Georgia on tour with our school gospel choir (I was one of 3 Asians, and there were maybe 5 or 6 non-blacks total in the choir…), and it was the first time in my life that I felt really different. I loved being in gospel choir and had a great time, but it was also very strange. Thinking back on that experience now, it makes me think that Georgia, and maybe even the U.S. is not so different now from what it was 50 or so years before.
But, as Codell (2009) writes, “the world has changed, however slowly and incompletely” (para. 4). The fact that there are books like Kira-Kira now is evidence of this. This book is great for anyone who wants to know more about the Asian American experience during a time in the U.S. when overt discrimination and racism were still part of the norm. But more than that, this is a touching story about a family dealing with a terminal illness and all the emotions and issues that go along with it.
This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter K.